In a new report issued by government law experts, a complex framework has been set out for when self-driving cars infiltrate Britain’s roads in the next few years. The report states that drivers will no longer be referred to as such, and will instead be named ‘user-in-charge’ in this shift of responsibilities.
It is understood that, under this new proposal, the person in the driving seat would not be held accountable for mistakes made by the car, like speeding.
Instead, these responsibilities would be transferred to the manufacturer of the vehicle or its software.
It seems that these self-driving cars would be programmed to make a journey with passengers onboard (who may only need to intervene in an emergency. This would mean that fining systems like speeding tickets would become redundant, with ‘users-in-charge’ no longer liable for the mistakes made by the vehicle itself.
The Law Commission Report states that these changes will allow ‘users-in-charge’ to relax on car journeys by reading a book or watching a film, with potential for the traditional driver’s seat to be made redundant and phased out in newer self-driving models.
The report states that: ‘Under our proposals, if a vehicle is classified as self-driving and the ADS (automated driving system) is engaged, the person in the driving seat becomes as ‘user-in-charge’ rather than a driver.’
It continues with an explanation of what this could mean for the future of driving and offences like speeding: ‘This means that…the user-in-charge could lawfully undertake activities which drivers of conventional vehicles are not allowed to do as it would distract them from driving. Examples are watching a movie or reading emails. If there is a collision caused by a vehicle driving itself…the user-in-charge could not be prosecuted for offences such as careless or dangerous driving. The user-in-charge could not be prosecuted for a wide range of other offences, including exceeding the speed limit.’
The report does state, however, that ‘users-in-charge’ would have to stay under the drink-drive limit in case of an emergency in which they would be required to take back control of the vehicle.
Is this shift in responsibility a good idea?
Even at this early stage, there are concerns about the rolling out of these automated vehicles, and the report has faced opposition from the public: ‘Eventually, someone will be killed or seriously injured by an AV (automated vehicle). The victim will be a real person – their picture will appear in the media, inspiring considerable sympathy. In these circumstances, developers, regulators and politicians will need to make a case for AVs, producing figures showing an overall decline in injury rates.
The report also admits that: ‘This may not be an easy sell. Robust data will be needed.’
In 2018, the National Transport Commission (NTC), suggested that automated vehicles may need to be accompanied by an Automated Driving System Entity (ADSE) as part of a safety reassurance system. This would involve having a separate legal entity who would have to apply for authorisation for use and who could be liable for sanction in the case of any wrongdoing. This is not addressed in the new report.
However, in reinforcing the benefits of AVs, The Law Commission explains that there are 4.5 million motoring offences committed each year on Britain’s roads. With the introduction of AVs, these would become ‘regulatory matters.’ Instead, incidents would be resolved by a safety watchdog with the vehicle manufacturer.
In reinforcing the benefits of AVs and this shift in responsibilities, the report said: ‘Automated vehicles should be considerably more law-abiding, so much of this enforcement may no longer be necessary.’
It still stands, however, that a ‘user-in-charge’ will have to be ‘qualified and fit to drive’ under these new plans, and it will remain a crime to not have a licence or be unfit to drive through drink and drugs.
Transport Minister, Rachel Maclean, has spoken out to support this shift in responsibility. With several self-driving cars already being tested on UK roads with safety officers on board, she said: ‘The UK is leading the way on the regulation of this technology, supporting innovation and putting safety at the heart of everything we do.’
Would you feel comfortable handing responsibility over to your vehicle? Is this liability shift asking for trouble?
Tell us in the comments.
I currently have a car that tries to take over the steering if I cross a white line. I find this really dangerous. How can legislation allow this type of car to be sold. The next step is of course the car taking over everything..
Really dangerous and should be stopped
Perhaps you should have read the specification of the car, or better still taken it for a test drive before you bought it!
I have this on my car but I can switch it off.
I agree entirely. My first hybrid had this function but I hadn’t realised and when it came back from it’s first service it started doing strange things to my steering which I was not happy with – thought I had fault so went the dealer.The young lad pressed a button and it was fixed!
So long as one car on the motorway is not fully automated their will be an accident. The only way automated cars can work,in my opinion, is when they run on rails! That would be a good idea so let’s re-invent the train.
Many cars will now self-park but very few will risk using it and I have friends with top of the range BMs where their intelligent cruise control actually changes lane automatically. Most have turned off that function so now they have no cruise control – Progress?
A LOT more research into the efficacy of even the idea is needed.
John on the Wirral
I can’t see that the auto lane change is a bad thing since many BMW drivers only recognise the outer lane as the one to drive in, so a system that moves them over must be a good idea.
Hi i have one the same and if you over take on the motor way and do not indicate to pull back in you can feel this system scuffing the front tyres off. If you go down a country lane and go round a bend at speed and go tight in and wide out it throws you all over the road with a chance of losing it so i switch my system off
Scuffing the front tyres off, what rubbish, what you feel is the power steering attempting to correct what it thinks is your mistake.
I have this on my Vauxhall Astra K , but it’s my choice to turn it off or on.
If the “user in charge” can read his emails or watch a movie, then he certainly won’t be in a position to take urgent action if an emergency situation arises, any more than someone who has been drinking or smoking weed, so why the difference? When driving normally on a long motorway journey, boredom or tiredness can easily set in, even where there are road situations to observe and driving decisions to be made. But if a “user in charge” has to sit in his self-driving car gazing at the road but doing nothing, I’m sure his eyes will be glazing over after just a few miles. A self-driving car should be exactly that, otherwise what’s the point?
Why has my comment been removed? I’ve just re-checked the comments guidelines, and I’m sure I complied with all of them. Or did the moderator simply disagree with what I said?
Martyn, sorry but especially during weekends and holidays comments take longer to review and approve. At the moment every single comment is moderated manually because the site is constantly attacked by bots with comments promoting all sorts of bad things. We are looking at how to fix this but it will take a while.
I refer to my other comment, its to stop comment spam from hitting the threads
So do the penalty points go on the vehicles licence and then when it has broken the speed limit 3 or 4 times on one trip and been caught on camera the vehicle is banned from the road together with all the similarly equipped driverless vehicles. as if there is obviously a fault in the program that is what would have to happen. But DfT would just ban the use of the driverless option on the affected vehicles.
I can’t see it going down that road. They are never going to get a driverless vehicle to pick up all the temporary changes of speed limits or get them to update when a new one comes into force.
What about your on the motorway and need the bog, hows the car going to know where to park while you take a leak.?
Here’s a problem though, if there’s a temporary speed limit and the car doesn’t follow it who is to blame? My wife was nearly ticketed in a temporary speed limit area and thankfully the Police cancelled it, I suspect that the limit wasn’t legally enforceable as the legal steps for it weren’t followed. This could actually be very dangerous. I’m also not convinced that expecting people to go from no attention to full attention is realistic., and I am not the only one to think that Self-driving cars I think are more problem than solution.
Fun times. What will be the point in my existence, again?
Still, at least everyone will be “safe”.
As with most of modern technology, the manufacturers will not have thought of every conceivable problem. We have seen this too many times with computers etc. And these cars will be driven by computers. I would take my chance versus a human drunk driver asleep rather than a driverless car ‘in the care of’ a drunk driver asleep. Actually, reading that again, I’m not sure. The rules should specify that a driverless car should be ‘in the care of’ an alert human. Then the onus is on both the manufacturer and the human being required to be alert. As the worn-out joke has it, this country needs lerts.
Suppose the ‘driver’ is asleep. How does the car know when or where to stop? Presumably SatNav. What if you don’t have SatNav? I use stuff printed on paper, I think they are called ‘maps’. I am an excellent mapreader (even when drunk). Oh, sorry, these space-age cars will have SatNav, of course. Silly me. I suppose the car won’t even start if a destination has not been programmed. Let’s hope the drunk punches in the wrong destination: then they will have fun wondering where they have ended up!
However good this new fangled technology is It cannot think! Still needs an alert old fashioned human inputter to operate it.
Except they won’t know they have arrived. They will be asleep!!!
Hopefully this will be the nail in the coffin of the whole daft idea. I’ll accept that self driving cars are possible only when someone demonstrates by successfully getting from one end of the village where I live to the other, coping with vehicles parked in silly places and tractors towing oversized machinery the other way.
What happens if you are in a selfdriving car as a passenger and you cant drive anyway. Who is going to check that at least one person can drive?
Certain safety features built into modern cars are useful in making driving easier and reducing the risk of minor accidents or potential collisions. However, the sheer number of variables involved in driving make it a complex process that in my opinion cannot be completely taken over by automation unless it is 100% fail safe. I would not want to put my life or those of my family and friends at the mercy of a computer. Clearly there are parallels with aviation and although this is statistically safer than other modes of travel, when accidents happen they are often more severe and therefore it is up to the traveller to weigh up the risk before flying. With millions of cars on the road, I believe the concept of self driving cars where there is no need for the user to be observant is unworkable.
Who writes this drivel .
What about drivers with automatic licences? Will at least some cars be designated as automatic for them?
Will there still be a driving test? Presumably there will have to be to allow the user-in-charge to take over in an emergency, but how will that user get the driving experience to give them the skills to take over if the car is normally driving itself? Older experienced drivers may be OK, but younger ones will never gain the experience that goes with being a safe driver. Will insurance premiums rise as everyone becomes treated like a 17-25 year old and therefore high risk?
To Jason Lloyd
Have you an answer, please, to my previous comment – are automatic car licences acceptable for at least some of these cars?
Surely, Catharine, all self driving cars will be automatic in the sense that you mean. They will have automatic everything.
Agree with the comment that new drivers will never have the experience to take over the driving in an emergency.